France honours last of Britain's Great Warriors

THEY MIGHT be the last patrol: quite possibly the last of their generation to cross the Channel in such numbers.

A group of 11 British veterans of the First World War - with a combined age of more than 1,000 years - returned to France yesterday to receive the thanks of the French people for their contribution to the war which shaped the century.

Fred Bunday, 98, became the first British serviceman of the Great War to receive the Legion d'Honneur on French soil since President Jacques Chirac offered his country's highest award to all surviving Allied veterans of the war last year. Other members of the group were given their medals in ceremonies in Britain.

Mr Bunday, who served in the Royal Navy in 1917 and 1918, stood ramrod straight to be presented with his award in the ceremony at Les Invalides, a few feet from the tomb of the Emperor Napoleon.

He did not waver or flinch, even when gripped by the shoulders and thoroughly kissed on both cheeks by General Jean Guinard of the French army. "I feel terrifically honoured to receive the medal in France," Mr Bunday said later, walking with a cane but otherwise unaided.

"I believe I'm the first from Britain to do so since President Chirac made this fantastic offer. I feel I've made history in my own way, just as my father did. He was in the Navy too and he was one of the pall-bearers for Queen Victoria."

Mr Bunday, who is from Portsmouth but now lives near Bognor in West Sussex, was 15 when he joined the Navy in 1917. He served until the end of the Second World War - one of the few men who saw active service in both wars. "My great-great-grandsons will be delighted," he said. "I have four of them under eight, and they keep saying to me, `Grandad, when can we see your new medal?'."

Around five million British soldiers served in France and Belgium between 1914 and 1918. More than 600,000 of them died in battle. Of the survivors of the survivors, there are 423 recorded as still alive by the First World War Veterans' Association (FWWVA). Of these, 170 have received the Legion d'Honneur, and many other applications are being processed by the French authorities. This is, inevitably, a race with time. William Southern, aged 100, who fought at the Somme and Passchendaele, was also to have received his medal yesterday. He died last Monday.

President Chirac's offer has substantially swollen the numbers of the known British survivors. Dennis Goodwin, founder of the FWWVA, who led yesterday's expedition, said 100 old soldiers unknown to veterans' groups had come forward since the French offered to decorate all living Allied soldiers of the Great War.

After the ceremony, the veterans were given a tea-party at the British Embassy by the ambassador, Sir Michael Jay, and his wife, Sylvia, assisted by British children living in Paris. The spirit and courage of the group was epitomised by Bill Lorrie, 99, a tall man in an elegant white suit. Greeted by Lady Jay on the embassy steps, he boomed: "It's very, very nice of you. I'm sorry I can't see you, but I'm delighted to meet you."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power